Location Livorno, IT
James Sherry
November 20, 2020

borderlands: am i i &they? knowing without or (from selfie: poetry & ecology)

In the prior chapter I introduced the role of verbs, specifically the verb “adapt” as a key function of the poetics of environment. Of course, we humans adapt to our surroundings. The terms and conditions of the biosphere always demand our attention. Our future as a species will be determined by what we do to our surroundings in the next few decades to avoid them becoming excessively harsh. One vital way to adapt is to begin to change from only representing our surroundings to writing through multiple means that encourage identities of individuals and groups to adjust. I pointed out that one’s actual self-interest and probability are connected. This is an old adage. Conditions change in ways that are difficult to predict. They propel how I speak, write and think about myself, my friends and my surroundings. Outcomes in large systems are more predictable than in small systems with their quirky configurations and high-impact outliers. So, poetry improves its correspondences by writing in terms of ranges of outcomes on the linguistic scale. We can think in terms of probabilities and build culture(s) around them. Even the most predictive sentences raise questions that point to ranges of meanings.

“The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta [an open wound] where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms, it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country—a border culture” Gloria Anzalduaia. Borderlands, La Frontera

While Gloria focuses on the suffering of border culture, I would also point to it as a fertile area of change and responsive interaction. Standing in the way of implementing environmental models of culture that support change, inland humanism depends on reinforcing the separation of me from everyone else. Daoism, too, presents a yin/yang world separated by a wavy line, a narrow separation of a border that is actually busily interactive. What transpires across those borderlands between individuals and concepts? The interior structures built to defend prerogatives of class, gender, ability and race as well as limiting identities to pre-selected political agendas and artistic personae, like poet, also impede awareness of ecological connectivity. In order to avoid:

• autocratic misrepresentation of value in social interaction, politics and culture,

• the closed system of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism in financial and right-wing political circles,

• adherence to points of view that treat exclusion as necessary to their beliefs,

• narcissistic dysfunction among poets and

• overly simplistic views of boundaries represented as only what we’re not, a line separating me from what is not me,

expanding our perception of borderlands becomes increasingly imperative. “Borderlands” shows how, in some comparative detail, individuals and the world extend into each other as part of the bidirectional flows to and from organisms, groups and places in writing.
margins/marginalize and connect with page numbers,
limits/limited range/shorter paths strengthen connections,
property lines/align/conform.
Let the sets reset assumptions
how nouns and verbs proliferate in English without telling us what to do with them. How to engage more specific speech as inhibition approaching borderlands? How may I address you?

To free writing to explore what has been excluded, blocked and erased by extensive inland descriptions, borderland zones adapt more effectively through their components than property border lines. They absorb difference. They diffuse and diffract cultural thrusts, redirecting similars into differences that can be absorbed approaching the other side. Borderland zones connect one to another through overlapping, dense arrangements with composites such as we. Edges adapt, interact and even create since variation is there most apparent, since we organisms see through difference.
Frame borders as things with width,
depth, height and extension over time,
the border’s borders even.
What’s going on
in that space between
that can ally us?
Prose becomes poetry
and reverts to it, too:

swell from one-dimensional lines
through the composite model of
things that includes molecules,
nouns, individuals, nations,
ecosystems. When we say
an organism exists, can we say
so for all parts or only when they
come together in the known
identity individuals construct
of things and selves? Scale
falters in perception
but persists. Borders expand
through thinking about them.
A person can be said
to exist, even described in parts,
and may be conscious. But is
my arm conscious? An octopus
may be said to be conscious, and
there is a greater likelihood
of extending consciousness
to its arms through its distributed
nervous system, distributed network, populations.
(Op. Cit. Other Minds. 84,5 & 104,5)
My brain is dark
inside my skull, but connections
fill me with light.
“The truth is, we all have phantom limbs superimposed on our real ones.” (ibid.):
The brain controls attention.
Selective signal enhancement
controls the body.
I turn my head to hear better
but your face remains where
it was in spite of me moving.
Try it.
Existence in the mind
the body’s existence.
My gender reassigned:
I seem to be there
Lord Nelson’s arm,
an illusory presence!
(Richard Graziano. “How Phantom Limbs Explain Consciousness.”
The Atlantic. 020116)
Prose becomes poetry as we,
as we traverse the borderlands..

The metaphor of boundary, derived from a property model, protects and separates unforgivingly, No Trespassing signs nailed every few trees. The self-absorbed and socio-centric writings of Romantic and Modernist poetry bring linear borders up close and personal to arouse deeper emotions. Through institutions such as marriage, war, free labor and slavery, people function as chattel as well as sensible beings.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” (Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”)

Extending Frost’s conflict about property, Susan Howe’s notion of boundary refracts multiple characterizations of borderlands through history. Howe refines the ways one individual is separated from another. Alienation (dis)connects people from themselves, their group(s), their nation(s) and the biosphere. A clear, bright border of identity appears, different for each person in each condition and protects the organismic boundary while fuzzy interpenetration usually remains the actual case. Howe implicates writing in this boundary.
“mark/border/bulwark…” (The Secret History of the Dividing Line. Telephone Books, 1978.)

There’s no reason to think of sharp divisions except to protect you and yours. The Covid-19 virus makes this dual purpose apparent to me as I stay home to protect my health and the health of others in my community. With one gesture I speak for myself and for others. While I protect myself, I expose myself to tyranny, allowing my groups to go unrehearsed. The risk of losing myself in myself in this situation the odds-on favorite. That, too, is multi-directional writing.
      Corona Shadow
As buds break into new leaf
Cloud shadows sweep the hills
Their moment of darkness threatens
Nothing will stop our spring

The regions where two or more entities connect are hardly a one-dimensional line. Laminate and evolving as identity, variable and sequential as syntax, networked and simultaneous as situation, borderlands compose lives. They are places themselves and orient our attention to the actions performed in them. Consider how the bundles of channels that network individuals with their surroundings, themselves composed of connections of different types, traverse the membranes of self, self-image, body, behaviors and thoughts to the surrounding ecosystems of other organisms, other composite things and other ways of thinking.
I know you now, but later you will be a stranger.
I love you forever except when you annoy me.
Please come and work for me
until I make a mistake and fire you.
Trade with my country until you gain
an advantage. Then we can make a war to
profit from our people’s suffering.
I need you when I’m hungry.
Surely you know these stories.

The soil allows us to attach ourselves;
the world allows the delusion of detachment.
Attachment allows us to escape the illusion
of outside; detachment allows us
the escape of borders. Self is
the balancing act to be refined.
(rewritten from Bruno Latour, Down to Earth. Polity Press, 2018, 93.)
I reflected and now like
my reflection perhaps too much.
I store it in the back of my mind
and it comes back untoward.
Across the street I saw her inky noodle
shattered against the vitrine of reflection.
Seeing one thing through another:
refraction and reflection both
operate across borderlands. Put a pencil
in a glass of water. See the giraffe.
The space to the mirror shifts as I tilt my head.
“Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air.” (Moby Dick, “The Chapel.” Planet eBook. 73)

Borders are an essential component of humanist identity, certainly national identity. Open borders, superficially a good alternative to border walls, relinquish control of governance to unresponsive and self-serving corporations whose own borders, the corporate veil, are highly defended and far more difficult to define and breach. When the power of the state is taken away, only commerce, its prerogatives and battles with labor survive. Crossing borders becomes a financial transaction, porous to capital, facilitating “the free flow of capital across the surface of the globe.” (David Harvey. The Condition of Postmodernity. Blackwell, 1989. 271) At the same time border crossings become restricted to the value of labor to the corporation of individual citizens. The risks to human agency of corporate-only governance argue for multi-lateral trade and labor agreements where multiple interests—individual, class, corporate sector and state—are negotiated by those organizations that remain responsive to citizens. States mediate differences between citizens. Even in these days where the state seems beholden only to corporate interests, labor and individuals still have a seat at the table. To some extent the state supports labor’s interests in negotiation with employers. Thus, the state remains a required intermediary for citizens.
“The fierce class and traditional resistances to capitalist modernization in Europe, on the other hand, made the intellectual and aesthetic movements of modernism much more important as a cutting edge of social change, giving to the avantgarde a political and social role broadly denied them in the United States until after 1945.” (Ibid. 27)

In specifying this problem of borderlands, isomorphism continues to be a valued tool to understand the complications of borderlands. The isolation of the body of the individual is mirrored in political identities instituted in the 17th century. In the Peace of Westphalia
“…old forms of hierarchical deference were quietly discarded. The inherent equality of sovereign states, regardless of their power or domestic system, was instituted.” (Henry Kissinger, World Order. Penguin, 2014. 25) Kissinger writing on the Peace of Westphalia that established the notion of national sovereignty misrepresents almost all of primary issues involved. ( About the same time, Descartes was writing “cogito ergo sum” and the East India Companies, chartered in Holland and England, were receiving rights to isolate their business from direct political control and competition. The border remains scabbed over.

Even linear property lines and national borders are more than one-dimensional creations, established through legal arrangements, topological features and cultural differences. Most nations support the right to own private property, yet laws vary within nations. There are rights associated with time such as leases and inheritance. There are air rights and mineral rights. Further intricacies arise when property is threatened: the fear, the rage; we protect it as if it were our own body. We imagine our selves defined by a line; don’t cross it, don’t touch me, argh!

These diverse situations regarding interfaces between things—cell walls, house walls, disciplinary boundaries, solitude and ecosystem boundaries—are not easy to resolve with singular restrictions. Cultural theories and most ecology texts cited here attest to the materiality of the network of thick borderlands: atoms, genes, cells, bodies, thoughts, communities, institutions, nations and ecosystems scaling freely. The environmental model of borderlands always contains something we can point to, but it is not a thing in itself any more than any other noun. It is not a one-dimensional dotted line separating you and me. Each person senses the boundary in two separate but interdependent spaces: the space they effect and the space they see. (rewritten from Jakob von Uexküll. A Foray into the World of Animals and Humans. University of Minnesota Press, 2010. 54-63) Uexküll’s contribution of umwelt, meaning surroundings, focuses on the “biological foundations that lie at the very epicenter of the study of both communication and signification in the human [and non-human] animal” (Thomas A. Sebeok. “Foreword”. Contributions to the Doctrine of Signs. Lisse, Netherlands: Peter de Ridder Press, 1976. 93) Uexküll is often considered the founder of post-humanist thinking.
Did we forget the middle ground quickly closing between predator and prey, love and hate, transparent and opaque, unit and fragment? Quickly closing! Did we destroy that interim space to preserve what we mistook for ourselves?

The material and multiple connections that comprise environmental borders are as multidimensional as the vaunted interiors of minds in modernism. Rather than trying to invent a generalization or definition of borderlands, here are some exemplary ways to look at them:

  1. Connections across borderlands may be point to point like whispering a poem in your ear, distributed over several channels at once like social media and broadcast like cellular technology and solar radiation
  1. How amazing that txt conex.
    I missed that scaled 与, that fish
    who escapt the lure. Twice!
    Slipt in votes fer them,
    suppressing ballots of Browns.
    Yes and so one is
    writing in two directions at once.
  1. The palpable, measurable border between my hand touching yours. Its heat, touch, run up the arm, focus the eyes, open the capillaries, supporting connections to biology, law, sex and signs.
  1. A taste you suffer
    Where th flame ends
    Variations tho still one.
    Differences linkt thru assonance,
    rhyme, those different words,
    like “six coiffed sisters” in
    setting, prosody, logic and page.
  1. The many layers of skin (three major, multiple minor), blood vessels, nerves, hair, fat, integument. I kiss your cheek covered with bacteria. My lips splash through layers of increasing temperature, denser pheromones, resistance by your mind even when you want that kiss on your cheek.
  1. The Seine River where sunlight ends
    No, look, it sets here, too!
  1. Oppression of the Other
    pushes strongly in one direction.
    Responses to oppression—
    connection in black communities,
    assertion of southern lands,
    monolithic feminism and queerness,
    submission, questioning
    dialectic, acknowledging
    universal disability, asserted
    consciousness, multiplicity—
    contradict a singular view of self,
    society and planet
  1. The indirect connections of
    a reference made to a friend
    about what you did.
    To whom. The words were
    spoken and difficult
    to retract since the discourse
    is material, remembered, archived
  1. Between I. A. Richards’ “tenor and vehicle,” between Lakoff’s “source and target” connectors carry thrown light, black dogs, etherized patients and world stages between sectors of the brain and words of the text
  1. Characters in novels
    speaking to each
    other on lawns
  1. The soil allows us to attach ourselves and our plants while the world, too much with us, provokes detachment. Attachments evaporate the illusion of a great being outside. Detachment helps us escape the delusion of borderline. (modified Latour)
  1. “A dark green raincoat she ran into” (Zhao Si)
    Pouring a glass of water overwhelms the lip.
  1. Fruit flies dance out our door.
    I catch you saying that again,
    again you must be somewhere to mean it.
    A selfie shows what
    was behind you and around.
  1. The intermittent but regular connections
    of taxmen reaching, the toll taker receiving,
    collection plate passing, the date waiting for you.
    Connectivity breaches the personal/social
    boundary linking many to many
  1. Is there any connection
    between a screen loading
    and recall? Is there any?
    Shape to it!
  1. The strong connections of motherhood,
    the weaker yet still material connections of fatherhood, the connections of love,
    clearly material and based on fluid
    exchange, chattel and use value, the different
    connections of friendship supported by various roles
    such as long relationships, jobs
    and interests, friendships:
    enjambment due to other friendships
  1. Divine destination in your eyes
    Somewhere I, we, they: the heavenly host-
    ess cupcakes, hoping not to be toppled
    by twinkies.
  1. The model links characters in theater, actors on political stages and ghosts that haunt our demonstrable things and those that exist most strongly in language and sensibility, the connections across lines of thought that science proves and those it doesn’t validate.
  1. How far do I have
    to go to get to
    where you are
    so we can be here?
  1. The strong connections of a black man to the daily pain and pride of his color. The characteristics of that connection—job performance, family stability, the height of his belt—when pain bleeds into self-doubt, what is spoken about as color. The resilience against pain fashioned by community
  1. Driven by dread of distinction
    “However the image enters” (Audre Lorde)
    “The perversity
    of separation, isolation,” (Amiri Baraka)
    “An intensely slanted approach…” (Edward Bland)
  1. We Jews learned our lesson. Shepherds, then millennia of separation from Christian societies. Trying to connect and link the borders in Europe, we joined the elite and the working classes. The border reasserts itself in holocaust and Jews flee to Palestine, the US, Argentina. Now Israel reproduces that European border with a wall to protect it from those very Palestinians whose name the land bears. The wall ignores citizenship, familial ties, human rights to protect individual, threatened, Jewish bodies, corporate productivity and the corpse of the state. Reconnect despite the risks of threats to life and tribe.
  1. A boomer generation protecting truth at all costs
    engenders a generation intent on no harm at all costs.
  1. The connections of youth to age, anger to fear,
    power to privilege, sex to love that
    reiterate binary identity!
  1. Beauty connected to arbitrary choices, &
    to patterns of calcium propagation, &
    to realms of mathematical possibility, &
    to economics by our willingness to write
    through activation and inhibition signals
    through air, through mind, with light, in random
    placement of color on her feathers,
    as in poetry we inhibit grammar
    through connectors to politics,
    deleting “the”,
    to metric apostrophes,
    to prosody adding through which
    readers awake their aware.
  1. I wrote a personal poem through me
    a social poem through them
    an eco-poem through feet
    connecting them with a fourth line.
  1. Bi-directional connections of gender.
    A sport teems. How strongly
    class distinctions and daily
    activities determine and
    reestablish connections
    to build a social network,
    flexible borderlands.
  1. Your self is not a unit of one;
    Bidirectional writing: that’s the whole poem,
    because any word could appear next.
    It’s just a fact of writing
    and if you object that a perfect wor(l)d
    should appear next or some synonym
    then you haven’t been paying attention.
  1. The intermittent connections to corporate identity reinforced by marketing, advertising and public relations. Leaders seek to create connections between workers and management while severing connections between workers that strengthen their communities. Supply chains imitate family ties and forest ecology, as well as slave trade routes. (Fred Moten)
  1. Corporate identity links consumers and suppliers of product to the corporate body that acts like an organism, acts like a city, acts like a mind. (Marsilius of Padua)
  1. Connections are nouns
    made up of components
    an over populated dmz
    to make want disappear
    and create desire
    like all things connected
    and simultaneously separate,
    a characteristic of language.
  1. “I don’t remember.” (Cure)
    Obsessive productivity
    recapitulates the self.
  1. The connections across boundaries between one poem and another both of which I wrote. The connections and borderlands between poems I wrote and those you wrote. The connections and social borderlands between a poet and a group of poets, casual and formal, connections across social boundaries between poets and a group of non-poets, walls between poets and markets, connections and walls (borderlands) between poetry and society, connections made here between poetry and the biosphere, what I’m writing here and speaking now connecting to you!
  1. Multiple uses of the same thing,
    pliers to open and close,
    tie otherwise diverse
    functions out there in the field
    and inside in the head together:
    enjambment as a mental connection
  1. Links don’t just exist at the edges of entities. Many begin from the core function of an individual’s love, family, blood flow, property and poetry. Interior-to-interior connections are as crucial to the organism than those beginning at the edges of entities, because every organism is composed of many linked parts.
  1. One more poem here!
    If you write it, then
    we’re a thing, the
    enjambment of sex.
  1. These are my personal boundaries
    Do not cross them…
  1. Some things are connected and function together like a fork and spaghetti. Some appear to be connected by being in a related category, but the connection is not functional like a fork and a banana. Some things might be functionally related but are not usually used at the same time like a claw hammer and a sledge hammer. Some things are functionally unrelated and don’t appear together like a kangaroo and a hammer. Some things are functionally unrelated but have other relations like a giraffe and a pencil: remember connections to the glass of water.
  1. Breaking and entering into the paradise of me, suffering in my domain: remind the preacher that life is surplus energy. The surplus of energy founds &&& causes warming. Why do I want to sustain that image, that paradise of glass that poetry should let pass into sand?

Borderlands composed this way become porous and permeable, scary to the highly defended self. They are difficult to contemplate as a unit since they are composites of diverse connections, diverse characteristics. Yet they are a commonplace unnoticed.
The poet sees this coming and protects their lyric.

Biology and psychology connect the same organism differently. How do I get to be one then? I am multitudes. They can be brought together, designated together. Epistemology that separates exclusively is not an enemy but understood as linear and if remaining exclusive, risks the future of the planet.
Hold your biases close to see me being we.
Cut your connections but continue to look proud.
If you push your biases toward me,
can we be we?
Can I be we,
not royally, but a composite?
The one is still two (self and other)
plus one (yourself as you see you),
society, habitat and connections.
The foursome of the environmental model
questions singular and binary identity.

Inversely, the humanist notion of connection defends private property, unique personal identity, linear borders and accumulation of capital behind those borders.

“accumulation of land maintain household bear labor of house child

cooking reserve line belonging to elaborate isolation”

(Myung Mi Kim. “[accumulation of land]” Penury. *Omnidawn, 2009.)

Individuals and groups have rights to what they own by virtue of expended energy and resources, but not at the expense of the collective. It’s settled law in most jurisdictions. The environmental description of boundary does not necessarily threaten private property, since “free, unfettered” use of property has never really been the case. “It is important to draw a sharp distinction between a property claim and a property right.” But individualism arising from resistance to industrialization has developed to the point where oligarchy no longer allows the laws of the state by themselves to protect their property. (Jeffrey Winter. Oligarchy. Cambridge University Press, 2011. 21,22)
Hence Trump, Putin, Xi, Modi, Erdogan, Sisi, Orban, Duterte: I pass you their pictures.

Poetry of only selves, poetry of only society, poetry of the two and poetry only about nature support the node-like perspective of capital against multiple, different, quaternary views of borderlands. Poetry of nature, poetry of nature and individuals support the node-like perspective of man against nature. The extension of capitalist metaphors into art, into identity, present a risk to the planet, enabling unquestioned use of resources without acknowledging the interactions that result. Yet it would be difficult to immediately exclude them as they permeate our language use, however careful I have been.
Environmental borders are semi-permeable as is the rest of the network. Its system is closed but accessible through programming. (Niklas Luhmann. Ecological Communication. Tr. John Bednarz Jr. Polity Press, 1989. 44-51)

And why would selves be any more inviolable under capitalism? Fearful landowners think their selves must be uninfringeable, identifying with an established value like property-like states, like nation states. Should poetry imitate property and the state? (When as a publisher do I change my mind and want academics who cite my publications to pay for the right to reprint?) Existentially, the values of property fluctuate. The facts about values vary. History shows little immutable value beyond narrative. Where does that leave the defended, immutable self? The real wilderness is the space between us.
“and the best you can do
is cut a sock in half
and try to create something
I’ll want to have.”
–Marie Buck